In a game that had a playoff feel the Lakers gave a championship effort. So much has been made about how old and slow these Lakers are. Naturally you’d expect the legs of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to be problematic.
Well, if by problematic you mean for one half of basketball then you’re right.
OKC ran out to a 5 point lead dropping 56 in the first half. Then something you wouldn’t expect of an “older team” occurred. The Lakers found their legs in the second half and slowed the Thunder roll.
For anyone that is still disappointed that Mitch Kupchak clung to Andrew Bynum in the face of acquiring Carmelo Anthony I can only ask that you review this afternoon’s contest. The length of Bynum gave the Thunder all kinds of problems. Drew played one of his best games of the year, posting a double-double (16 and 10) but most importantly he owned the paint. Bynum blocked 5 shots and changed countless others as OKC had no answer for the Laker bigs.
Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were all over the boards. Between the Spaniard, Drew and LO, the Laker bigs grabbed a combined 28 rebounds, only 10 less than the Thunder did as a team. As we all know, defense wins championships and rebounding is a reward for playing great D.
The Thunder just couldn’t get anything going in the second half. Ron Artest began to harass Durant while Kobe simply allowed Westbrook to play out of control. Russell is a nightmare matchup and after Derrick Rose might be the fastest man in the league. But the Lakers have a sound formula for defending the Leuzinger alum – they let him get into the lane where he tends to play too fast and collects player control fouls. All that D snuffed out the Thunder holding the home team to just 31 second half points.
On offense, no Laker scored more than 18 points with 4 of the 5 starters in double figures. All that balance kept the Thunder playing a guessing game until it came down to the final minutes when you know who was going to be taking the big shots.
While Mamba made only a brief appearance today, he did manage to make a few keys shots down the stretch. Credit where credit is due, Thabo Sefolosha did as good a job as anyone defending Kobe. Bryant shot just 8 of 22 in a frustrating afternoon of hoops.
But Artest did the same to Durant who also made just 8 of his 20 attempts.
Still, this game was one bounce away from going to OT. Both Durant and James Harden got good looks late but neither could convert. Mired in a three game skid, that’s just the kind of breaks OKC has been getting lately.
Meanwhile the Lakers are really clicking having ripped off four wins to answers those three losses prior to the All-Star break. Not saying everything is right but this is certainly a team finally hitting its stride. With Artest consistently contributing, the bigs dominating and Kobe in Mamba mode, the Lakers are showing that championship focus we’ve been waiting to see.